Do iPads Pose Dangers to Shunt Users?

July 18, 2012 |
Do iPads Pose Dangers to Shunt Users?

A new study from the University of Michigan may be a warning to people in the U.S. with medical conditions that require programmable shunt valves. A serious hazard may be linked to increasingly popular iPad devices.

Doctors began to investigate the problem after noticing the case of a four-month-old, whose shunt began to stop working properly after only three weeks. The baby had a condition known as hydrocephalus, which causes extra fluids to build up around the brain and can cause dangerous or even deadly swelling. The shunt should have drained off the excess fluid. Eventually, the baby’s doctors and mother linked the shunt problems to the fact that the baby’s mother often fed her baby while using an iPad. This meant that the baby’s head was often very close to the device.

For the study, researchers looked at the iPad 2 as well as the device’s Apple Smart Cover. The iPad and Smart Cover contain magnets and other technologies that give off energy that can affect magnetic fields. Just as a microwave, metal detector or MRI machine may interfere with implanted medical devices, researchers wanted to see if something similar could happen with the iPad and/or its cover and programmable shunt valves.

The study looked at 10 programmable shunt valves, each exposed to the iPad or iPad and cover for 10 seconds, at different distances. Results showed that nearly 60 percent of devices were affected when exposed at close range, from 0 to 1 cm away. The effect on the shunts got weaker as the distance increased, eventually dropping to about 1 percent when devices were about 1 to 2 inches away. Some researchers said that these findings shouldn’t be too alarming to parents. The baby whose case triggered the study was treated without lasting problems. Study author Dr. Cormac Maher said, “If a child uses an iPad, that's OK; they just shouldn't hold it near their head or sleep with it.”

Other doctors want more studies, in order to figure out whether there is a link between the iPad and shunt valve problems. Doctors and patient safety advocates do seem to agree that it’s important for doctors and medical staff to warn patients and caregivers about the potential problems with medical implants and any electronic devices they use.

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